Butch and Sundance

I remember the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when it came out. It was a different Western, a movie about two happy-go-lucky guys who wandered the West with their friends robbing banks and trains. They were likable thieves, played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their heyday. At the end of the movie, they’re having lunch in a outdoor Bolivian eatery when they’re shot at. They’re discovered by a bunch of local cops, who promptly engage them in a gunfight. Hiding in a building, bleeding from the first rounds of flying lead, they’re planning their escape and come out with guns blazing. Little do they know an entire division of the Bolivian army has them surrounded, and in three volleys end the movie. Butch and Sundance think their guns can get them out of trouble, and are disappointed.

It’s seems that a gun, any gun, has taken the place of the St. Christopher medal. The mere possession of one will keep you from harm, intimidate a malefactor by just being there, give you the chance to fight back in any situation. It lets you take control of your life and your surroundings. The more we have out there will keep us safer. Taking them away from us is violating the Constitution, denying a God given Right, and so forth.

Let’s think about Butch and Sundance for a moment. They had guns and long experience using them, and they had a lot of ammunition. How much good did it do them in a situation where they didn’t know the country, didn’t speak the language, didn’t know what weaponry they were up against or how many adversaries they had? How much good did the guns do them when their only plan of escape was to find a way to Australia? That’s the problem with having a gun, rely on a gun to get you out of trouble: you think you can master every situation, even when you’re outgunned. The problem is, what you don’t know can kill you and when you’re outgunned, you’re dead.

I’ve been in front of a classroom, let me imagine this scenario: I’m dealing with about 30 or so normal 7th graders, who are smart but inexperienced, have a usual amount of inquisitiveness and a large sense of play. Each day I try to teach them as well as prepare them for upcoming tests, keep track of who’s eating lunch, and insulate the negative personality traits of different children from each other, among other things. Now I also have to keep track of my weapon, which somebody in the class would probably try to steal just for kicks if I’m lucky, or use against me when they act out their psychological illness if I’m not, and in the midst of giving them my full attention, be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to answer an intruder alert, getting my gun quickly from a place I’ve put it where the kids probably can’t get to it.

Of course, I have the fleeting fantasy that if the class gets beyond control I could pull out the gun, point it at my head, and threaten to kill myself if they don’t behave. Two problems with that: most self-respecting 7th graders would dare me to pull the trigger, and after class, I’d be fitted with a wrap around white coat right if the principal is doing his/her job at all.

If it’s really a bad day, I have someone with an AK 47, perhaps wearing body armor, prowling the hallways and I have to get my kids, who will react to a crisis in about 30 different unpredictable ways if I let them, to a safe place as well as figure out if my marksmanship is good enough to hit a small target with my handgun should he get too close. I also hope he doesn’t see me before I get a bead on him, or I’m dead and I can’t keep anyone safe. Plus I have to worry about whether the SWAT team, when it shows up, will consider me a hostile and use their military surplus mayhem on me before they realize I work there. Yeah, I want to be a teacher under these circumstances.

Yes, we can train and arm our school counselors, principals or custodians. That means you’ll have enthusiastic vigilantes applying to be school counselors, principals and especially school custodians so they can openly pack heat around children. Having these vigilantes volunteer en masse for neighborhood watch patrols is already something that makes me feel unsafe. If this becomes the practice in schools, I’d home school my children, if I had any.

Tactics are never considered carefully in personal defense with a gun: identifying a threat is tough enough for a policeman or state trooper, and dealing with killing someone (if I get lucky) is a psychological burden even trained soldiers have a long time adjusting to. Not to mention any criminal with a lick of sense isn’t going to let a targeted victim put up resistance, or get a shot off. Even after thinking this through, an ordinary person trying to live an ordinary life is supposed to be a Minuteman literally, ready on an instant’s notice to drop everything and defend themselves. I think I’d like to give a professional the job of keeping me safe, even go in with everyone else in the town I live in to pay for it, and we can call them the police.

Of course, I could be like my distant relatives in the hill country and sit on my front porch all the time with my shotgun and shoot anyone who approaches the house. It would be easier. The only problem is finding a livable house on the right mountain. That and spending most of my time getting the basics of life like the Fat Guys in the Woods do.

The assumption we have to protect ourselves because no one else can be trusted is one that should be challenged. The school in Newtown, CT had an armed guard. Teachers and administrators would not be adequate armed guards due to an overload of responsibilities that would keep them from being able to do the job well, and the job of guarding children shouldn’t be done halfway by an amateur. Israel sends army units on class trips, however our army isn’t that big and we’re militarized enough as it is. Finding more people to arm for what a relatively uncommon threat doesn’t seem to be the best strategy, because making personal protection an amateur hour would probably lead to more shootings and other problems.

Responsible gun laws, accountability for the spread of weapons, and getting guns out of the hands of anyone who isn’t a recreational shooter or hunter or a member of law enforcement makes more sense. Protecting people from guns by issuing more guns makes as much sense as protecting people from pregnancy and venereal disease by having more sex. Butch and Sundance found out the hard way about the perils of relying on personal armament and tactics. The only infallible way to keep people from getting shot is to have no guns; since that’s impossible, limiting weaponry is the only way to make sense.

Every day is a dangerous day, dangers are all around us. That’s life, and there’s no getting out of that. The easiest thing is living life as a peaceful person, minimizing risk, accepting hazards as part of life, and realizing that if the worst happens to us, we go to Jesus when we die, is probably the best approach to safety and the temptation to use a gun as our usual personal security.

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